Freddy Adu’s rocky career in Major League Soccer ended with hardly a notice. Lost in the hype over David Beckham’s arrival stateside and the summer tournaments for the US National Team, Adu once MLS’ most marketable and brightest star was suffering through a miserable year in MLS purgatory: Salt Lake City. When Benfica came calling for Adu, the once bright hope for the US’ first legitimate world superstar was sold for less than Celtic had offered MLS for Shalrie Joseph a few months earlier, and half as much as the league had received for Clint Dempsey. Adu’s career in MLS which had some bright spots (which were often forgotten by those eager to anoint him as an American Pele at 14 and a bust by 17) including some very good goals in DC United’s MLS Cup run in 2004 (when Adu 15). But no doubt Adu was stagnating as a player by the time he reached 17, thanks to somewhat unsophisticated MLS training techniques and bad tactical management by Peter Nowak and later Jason Kreis.
Freddy Adu has a small frame, is quick and is left footed. Thus much like Bobby Convey and DaMarcus Beasley two other young phenoms developed in MLS and sold to European clubs, he was placed out on the left side as a wide player because he fit the mold Americanized managers look for in that position. However, unlike Beasley and Convey, Adu is a technically gifted player: I would argue he is the most technically gifted American player since Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda played in the 1990s.
Adu’s time at Benfica have been filled with adversity and have challenged a kid who back home in the US much was expected of, but few tools were given too. First Adu broke his way into the Benfica first team, becoming an option off the bench but a coaching change sent Adu back to the reserves. The Adu had to train hard and work his way up: something that was never a concern for him in MLS, where he was entitled to play in every game mind you out of position. The other thing that has happened is that Benfica’s coaches quickly recognized Adu belongs in a freer role where he can roam around and create chances with his technical skill and speed. Adu isn’t confined to the left side in Lisbon as he was in Washington or Salt Lake City.
The results have been fantastic. Adu has scored five goals in the last month for the Lisbon club and now is the first or second option off the bench for his club. Along with DaMarcus Beasley, Adu is winning respect for American Footballers on the continent with his play in the Champions League. Adu’s continued development below the radar in Portugal is great news not only for the US National Team, but for other Americans in MLS who will be given a great opportunity to impress in some of the less visible European leagues in the near future, thanks to Freddy Adu.